Kumartuli : Idol Studio of Kolkata

Alex and Francis have been married for the past two years now But this is the first time that Francis could make it to India with Alex. Alex still remembers the first time he visited Kumartuli and It instantly became one of his favourites. It was Rathyatra about Five years ago when he entered the winding lanes and was mesmerised by the calmness and the structures of the deities being created. He knew he wanted to come back every year from then on and so he did.

Every single year he returns to this place he notices some changes or the other and this year too was no different. He noticed some new artists working on the clay for the deity. Some even working on pottery and some on thermocol. He was taken aback as usual with the creativity of the minds. He noticed some women working on creating the idols of Durga as well- something he had noticed last year as well. He went forward to ask a lady what she was up to thinking that she might just be giving a helping hand to her father but no, she was actually creating it and she had a deadline as she would have to ship it abroad and she has been carrying forward the tradition of her family.

He straight away walked to his friend Kumar Das to see how he was doing with Francis following him. Alex loved these winding lanes of Kumartuli, it gave him peace from the hustle bustle of the city. While walking towards the artistic community Francis came up with an idea to do a proper interview of the people of Kumartuli and Alex whole-heartedly agreed to it. She had no idea what was coming!

Francis got her video camera ready for the interview before entering Kumar's work station. Kumar on seeing his friend agreed too with a big smile on his face. Thus began the interview. That day she went back to her hotel filled with information starting from how the clay for the deity is gathered to how it is created to even ChakkhuDaan on Mahalaya. She desperately waited to reach her hotel and start working on it.

She had read about the mere fact that the soil is collected from the River Ganges and the mud from the Hooghly River and mixed with cow dung and cow urine and also mud known as Punya Maati from the doorstep of a prostitute’s home is gifted to the artists but she never believed them. She had also read that new age artists are creating various structures of the deity like with thermocol, with bamboo sticks, with pottery but this time when she saw it and heard it herself she had to believe it.She also learned about the lifestyle of the people in Kumartuli that day and realized how tough life can be specially if it is dependant on these deities alone. Kumar told her that “ life is tough for us as we only depend on the money that comes in from creating these idols which is why we do atleast 4 or 5 of them in one go to last us the entire year around”.

She was rethinking about everything said during the interview. The car came to a stand still in front of their hotel. Like a child she jumped out of the cab while Alex paid the cab fare and rushed to her room to start working on her recent and her most excited work so that she could go back and show it to her boss. As soon as she reached her room she quickly took off her shoes and freshened up and sat down to get to work when to her horror she couldn’t see Kumar at all in her camera and the voice was nothing like what she had heard. When they rushed back the next day early morning to see why that happened they found out from the people nearby that Kumar Das had committed suicide a couple of years ago and since then no one can go near his workshop, nit even his family.

This blog is by Rukmini Seal (fb.com/rukmini.seal)

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